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‘Right-wing’: the fallout from the NUS and CISA’s dispute

The UTSSA will not reaffiliate with the CISA (Council of International Students Australia) following accusations of inaction and a conservative leadership under Oscar Ong.

The UTSSA will not renew its partnership with the CISA (Council of International Students Australia) in an escalation of disputes between student unions across Australia and the organisation. 

In December last year, the NUS severed ties with the CISA over a soured relationship described by then General Secretary Param Mahal as an “unfruitful” partnership. Others highlighted the organisation’s inactivity and opacity as factors that led to the disaffiliation. 

UTSSA President Anna Thieben also grounded her opposition  to the appointment of Oscar Ong as the CISA’s National President. Ong, a controversial two-time Adelaide University SRC President aligned with Adelaide’s Young Liberals, has a fraught relationship with the campus Left. 

According to Adelaide University’s On Dit, Ong was notorious for rejecting an affiliation application from Adelaide University’s Women’s Collective, bending rules to encourage a pro-life club to apply and banning SRC representatives from endorsing NUS campaigns. Most recently, in his current capacity as AUU Board President, Ong and his faction passed constitutional amendments to ban criticisms of the Board from SRC representatives. 

“I personally believe [that] we should not look to reaffiliate with the CISA in 2022 due to their right-wing leadership in the election of Oscar Zi Shao Ong.” Thieben said in a statement. For her, Ong’s conservatism betrays the staunch political activism that should characterise peak organisations like the CISA. 

“I firmly believe that the election of a conservative CISA President is symptomatic of the underrepresentation of international students in student political spaces.”

Honi understands that SUPRA remains affiliated with the CISA. Despite multiple requests for comments, SUPRA co-Presidents Shiyu Ma and Yige Peng failed to respond. 

However, Education Officer Yinfeng (Benny) Shen said that he was “not in the best capacity” to provide answers and deferred to a “dedicated person” tasked with CISA liaison. So far, Shen has not provided details of any such individual despite being approached.

Responding to SUPRA’s relationship with the CISA, SRC President Lauren Lancaster argued that all student organisations must act to propagate “radical, pro-student agendas” and be held accountable where they fail.  

“If their actions do not reflect a concern for equality and universal access to higher education, then I’d argue any affiliation should be reconsidered” Lancaster said. 

On the other hand, other student unions remain committed to their links with the CISA. Many, such as CAPA (Council of Australian Postgraduate Associations), allege that they were oblivious about Ong’s controversial records at Adelaide University and highlighted their union’s apolitical stance. 

John Tan Nguyen, President of Monash University International Student Service (MUISS) concurred, praising Ong’s and the CISA’s performance. However, a considerable conflict of interest arises as Nguyen himself served as CISA’s National Welfare Officer in 2021. 

When asked whether he endorsed Ong’s policies at Adelaide, Nguyen declined to comment, deferring to the “apolitical” nature of his role as MUISS President, and that he “barely knows anything” about Ong’s records at Adelaide.

CISA witnessed significant changes in recent years. In May 2020, a former CISA President abruptly resigned following damning revelations of abusive behaviour and financial misconduct including obscurity on a $200,000 sponsorship deal.

It is still unclear whether the CISA, following years of turmoil and now, Ong’s conservative leadership, can make a tangible difference to the multitude of issues facing international students. 

Both Oscar Ong and Belle Lim, Ong’s predecessor as National President, did not respond to multiple requests for comment.